Unhappily, The Walls Have Ears

I’ve been trading emails back-and-forth with the bank providing our mortgage in California. The sidebar on my Gmail page has two ads for financing. Google/Gmail knows what’s going on.

It’s no secret you are being followed incessantly as you traipse across the Internet. Sometimes the result of this data mining is beneficial, sometimes not.

It’s always creepy.

Last year the New York Times revealed how Target knew customers were expecting without asking.

As Pole’s computers crawled through the data, he was able to identify about 25 products that, when analyzed together, allowed him to assign each shopper a “pregnancy prediction” score. More important, he could also estimate her due date to within a small window, so Target could send coupons timed to very specific stages of her pregnancy.

It’s upsetting that Google, Facebook, Target and an untold number of data brokers know. It’s even worse when it’s the government.

News reports in December 2005 first revealed that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been intercepting Americans’ phone calls and Internet communications. Those news reports, combined with a USA Today story in May 2006 and the statements of several members of Congress, revealed that the NSA is also receiving wholesale copies of American’s telephone and other communications records. All of these surveillance activities are in violation of the privacy safeguards established by Congress and the US Constitution.

That’s the Electronic Freedom Foundation’s spin in the last sentence, but I agree. The 4th Amendment has this covered.

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Of course the 4th offers no protection when it’s disregarded!

Beyond that, what’s promised and what’s delivered are often two different things. Recently a former FBI agent appeared with CNN’s Erin Burnett.

More recently, two sources familiar with the investigation told CNN that Russell had spoken with Tamerlan after his picture appeared on national television April 18.

What exactly the two said remains under investigation, the sources said.

Investigators may be able to recover the conversation, said Tom Clemente, a former counterterrorism agent for the FBI.

“We certainly have ways in national security investigations to find out exactly what was said in that conversation,” he told CNN’s Erin Burnett on Monday, adding that “all of that stuff is being captured as we speak whether we know it or like it or not.”

“It’s not necessarily something that the FBI is going to want to present in court, but it may help lead the investigation and/or lead to questioning of her,” he said.

Some folks doubt what Clemente claims, but even if it can’t be done now it’s aspirational. Certainly the government is looking for easy snoop access wherever they can get it.

The FBI has been lobbying top internet companies like Yahoo and Google to support a proposal that would force them to provide backdoors for government surveillance – Wired.com

I am not one of those people who worries about government gone wild. I am much more worried about government employees connecting the wrong dots and making bad assumptions. I don’t want to be undone by some bug in the system. Even a tiny error rate (or a small number of agents with an agenda), multiplied by our 314 million citizens, could cause trouble for millions.

Mistakes already happen.

Officials say an 18-month-old girl was mistakenly pulled off a JetBlue flight before it left Fort Lauderdale because airline employees thought her name was on the U.S. no-fly list.

You can check your credit report and undo errors. You can’t do that when you’ve been surveilled. Most likely you won’t even know.

When data is secret and conclusions drawn based on secondary or tertiary actions there’s nothing you can do. That’s wrong.

I wonder if writing this will get me watched?

It’s Time To Take Back Our Privacy

The time to slow the progression is long gone. It’s now time to turn back the clock and return control of our private lives to ourselves.

I had a heated conversation with a friend earlier today. We were talking about invasion of privacy and crumbling civil liberties. She told me I was an unusual advocate for greater privacy considering I’m on TV and publish this blog every day.

What’s in this blog is the truth. It’s just not the whole truth. I don’t write everything.

You won’t hear about a fight with my daughter or disagreement with my wife. I don’t write about friends making foolish choices.

I’ve been on-the-air over 40 years. I understand how to compartmentalize life so I only reveal what I want revealed.

This Carrier IQ story has me disturbed. The charge is CarrierIQ software, installed on many cellphones, is keeping track of your smartphone usage keystroke-by-keystroke.

The company denies the accusations, but a demonstration by Torrington’s Trevor Eckhart seems to show otherwise.

It doesn’t make much difference. If it’s not being collected in the phone my cell provider certainly has the capability to collect this data on their end. Don’t think they won’t do it!

Verizon recently changed their privacy policy and, as reported by Androidandme.com,

Verizon will now begin storing your device’s location, as well as web sites you visit while connected to their network, and will use that information to both serve you more customized advertisements and for Verizon’s internal marketing and business reports. Additionally, this information may be shared with outside companies.

Verizon will do this UNLESS you opt out!

Recently the Supreme Court heard arguments on a case (United States vs. Jones) that centers on police planting a GPS tracker on a car without bothering to get a warrant. The police ask, how is this different than surveillance?

As Business Week reported,

The justices were taken aback when the lawyer representing the government said police officers could install GPS devices on the justices’ cars and track their movements without a warrant.

Justice Samuel Alito captured the essence of the court’s concern when he said, “With computers around, it’s now so simple to amass an enormous amount of information. How do we deal with this? Just say nothing has changed?”

I work in an environment where computers speedily analyze tons of data. It’s how weather isforecast. Incorrect assumptions are made all the time!

I don’t want my life scrutinized that way.

We have already lost much of our privacy to businesses and the government. The time to slow the progression is long gone. We need to turn back the clock and return control of our private lives to ourselves.

The Dismemberment Of Privacy

If you’re using Twitter on a mobile device with built-in GPS capabilities there’s an excellent chance Twitter knows where you are!

More and more as you enter the Internet you lose anonymity. Unless you really work hard to cover your tracks its likely companies know lots about you based on what you do online. They don’t need to know your name to effectively sell to you. Often they do anyway.

Recently I coded a Twitter search request&#185 to send me a stream of every tweet within 15 miles of here. Twitter still doesn’t know where most people are, but the number they do know grows each day.

If you’re using Twitter on a mobile device with built-in GPS capabilities there’s an excellent chance Twitter knows where you are!

Advertisers want to know too. Geolocation has immense potential to unlock local markets for national salesforces.

Geolocation’s power is so obvious the mere thought must be intoxicating to Google and Yahoo! and the others who will take advantage. Tragically they’ll be selling ads in competition with my employer. It will be a tough fight.

Generally, Twitter users follow people. By following you filter the tweets you see. Twitterers you don’t follow are invisible to you. There’s a whole twitisphere you mostly don’t see.

By screening for location alone the bias of selection is removed. If Twitter knows a tweet originates near me I see it.

The 15 mile localized tweetstream is a weird collection! It is good and bad and in between.

What I do is cyber eavesdropping. I admit it. Often I’m deep inside the lives of people I’d otherwise never come in contact with. Like a fly on the wall they have no idea I’m reading.

I’m not the only one intercepting these communiques. They’re too valuable not to be commercially mined.

Revealing and personal tweets often come encoded with the latitude and longitude of the user! Click on a tweet and connect to a map with the location of the person who sent it! I can’t imagine the people who make these tweets even suspect this is happening. They are naifs!

The potential for abuse is incredibly high.

This morsel of wisdom floated through the Internet over the weekend.

“If you are not paying for it, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold.”

Beware! In the end the companies which profit from this data will make the decisions on what’s fair use. You will have little say.

&#185 – * geocode:41.39529,-72.897635,15mi

Will Greed Bite Some Companies In The Butt?

Hey Apple, Google and Facebook I’m talking to you!

It’s a bad time to be greedy. I’m not saying every greedy company is going to get smacked (Do dreams ever come true?), but there will be some examples made. There must be some schvitzing going on at the highest levels of BP and Goldman Sachs.

Or, possibly, those companies feel they’re impervious to our wrath. Alas, they’re probably right.

On the other hand open greediness is not good for companies that make their money the old fashioned way–selling to consumers.

Hey Apple, Google and Facebook I’m talking to you!

Let’s start with Apple because this is a company so cool until recently its sh*t didn’t stink. Product-after-product came down the pipe on the backs of unicorns, gleaming with glitter. Apple’s products dominate the high end of computing and telephony where the highest profits lie.

You would think they’d be happy in Cupertino. Guess not.

Apple has shown a desire to control every part of your experience once you buy any of their products. They have done it in such a ham fisted that even Apple fanboys are starting to question their motives. These are the people who earlier would have testified on Apple’s behalf in any sh*t don’t stink litigation.

Apple’s brouhaha with Adobe over Flash is but one example of how not to do it in PR. The same goes for its iron fisted grip on what the iPhone can and cannot do (like sync to your computer wirelessly–one of many built-in capabilities Apple has forbidden from being implemented).

Actually, the best example of foot shooting comes from Apple’s ban of an app meant to show Mark Fiore‘s animated cartoons. Right after Apple turned the app down Fiore won a Pulitzer Prize. Oops. Apple relented after the damage was done.

Now Facebook is perilously close to MySpacing! The recent graphic depiction of Facebook’s shifting privacy policies and a few recently unearthed quotes from founder Mark Zuckerberg showing his contempt for his own users will drive people away.

The bad news for Facebook is this PR debacle is happening so quickly that users might revolt without even knowing what they’re revolting against. It makes no difference. Facebook will be the loser.

Of course the reason Facebook’s privacy policies have become so much less user friendly over time is because there’s more money to be made when privacy isn’t respected. That’s more greed in action.

Shouldn’t there be a point when you make more money by innovating not compromising your customers inner secrets?

Finally there’s Google. Just today Google had to backtrack on what information they get as their “Street View” vehicles comb the world. It seems they’re not just taking photos. They’re also scanning to identify WiFi hotspots so they can connect IP addresses with physical locations.

“It’s now clear that we have been mistakenly collecting samples of payload data from open (i.e. non-password-protected) Wi-Fi networks, even though we never used that data in any Google products,” Alan Eustace, senior vice president for engineering and research

CNET headlines their story about this: “Google: Oops, we spied on your Wi-Fi.” Your information is converted into their revenue stream.

Luckily for Google their biggest search competitor is Microsoft, a previous greed poster child.

The problem for all these companies is their products are becoming more like commodities every day. The iPhone isn’t the only smartphone of its kind anymore. Facebook’s functionality can easily be replicated. Others can perfect search.

For these companies their good name is worth more every day, but only as long as it is actually a good name.

Maybe these exceptionally profitable web companies should realize their users are what gets them the cash. It’s the 21st Century. Their customers will turn on a dime.